With the Los Angeles Lakers suffering a shock Game 1 defeat at the hands of the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, supporters were quick to present a number of compelling reasons as to what brought about this disappointing loss. At this point, it appears that not enough attention is being drawn to the fact that the loss of Avery Bradley for the Lakers. The 29-year-old opted out of the season restart, and there’s no denying that LA is missing him now more than ever.
Perhaps the biggest scapegoat came in the form of Danny Green, who himself has a miserable shooting night against Portland, going 4-of-12 overall and 2-of-8 from distance. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was even worse, missing all nine of his attempts on the evening, including 0-of-5 from the floor. While these, as well as the entire team’s shooting woes throughout the evening, are indeed significant factors that led to the defeat, we cannot overlook the impact of Bradley absence for the Lakers.
LA has one of the best defenses in the NBA, and it is Bradley that sets the tone for this team on the defensive end. He is not only one of the team’s best defenders, but the importance of the role he plays as a leader on defense cannot be understated. This was exposed in Game 1 against the Blazers.
Bradley is a tremendous defender at his position — one of the best in the league even. His ability to pressure the ball-handler relentlessly does not only provide a significant challenge for the opposing team’s primary playmaker, but perhaps more importantly, it allows his teammates to be more effective on the defensive end.
In Portland’s case, it is needless to say that their best player is bubble MVP Damian Lillard. He has an extremely high usage rate, and has the ball in his hands much more than anybody else on the team. Lillard had a field day against the Lakers on Tuesday, and while they were able to contain him for several portions in the contest, they failed to do so in crunch time.
Lillard finished the game with a game-high 34 points on 9-of-21 shooting, along with six triples to his name. The Lakers tried a number of defensive sets to try and prevent Lillard from having another offensive outburst — something that LA succeeded at to some degree — but in the end, the All-Star point guard was still able to lead his team to a victory. The result may have been different if Bradley had been hounding Lillard all evening long. We’re not saying that Bradley could have stopped Lillard, but at the very least, the defensive specialist could have worn him down.
When it comes to Bradley’s contributions on the offensive end, it is clear that he does not present himself as one of the team’s top options on that end of the floor. However, the 6-foot-3 guard is actually a decent 3-pointer — a crucial element in LA’s offensive system.
On the season, Bradley has averaged 1.3 triples per game on a respectable 36.4-percent clip. However, he saw a significant increase in his production from deep over the latter part of the botched campaign. Since February, Bradley has drained 2.4 3-pointers a game on 44.3-percent shooting.
On Tuesday against the Blazers, LA collectively shot 5-of-32 from rainbow territory, which is good for 15.6% from distance. That’s an unbelievably awful rate, and this was undeniably one of, if not the biggest reason behind their shock defeat.
It is also worth noting that this is not the first time the Lakers have been without Bradley for an extended period. The veteran was forced to sit out 13 games in November last year due to a hairline fracture.
In his stead, it was Caldwell-Pope that the Lakers called upon, and the 6-foot-5 shooting guard did an admirable job deputizing for his injured teammate. So much so, that people began questioning whether or not KCP should have been handed the starting gig over Bradley in the first place. This certainly was not the case for Caldwell-Pope in Game 1 against Portland, as he finished with just a single point without making any of his field goal attempts. KCP has to do better moving forward.
Despite losing Game 1, the Lakers are still the favorites to come out of this first-round series. However, if anything their Game 1 loss to the Blazers exposed a huge issue this team must resolve if they hope to go all the way this season. It’s not as if Bradley is going to be returning anytime soon, so LA will need to do everything in its power to try and fill the huge void he left.